I have the answer to one of wine’s more persistent, vexing questions: How much should a bottle of wine cost? This is an important question. The spectrum runs roughly from about 3 bucks to $13,000, so it’s reasonable to wonder whether the quality, complexity and intrigue traverse as wide a chasm as the price.

More relevantly for most of us: Is a $14 wine necessarily better than a $12 wine, or a $9 wine? And why does one bottle cost more than the other? And does the curve flatten out? – i.e., what is the apex of value?

We will get to these. But first, the answer to the Big Question: $19 or $20. That’s it, that’s the answer. American currency, 2016, it’s $19 or $20. If you’re the impatient sort, you can skip to the bottom of this article, glance at the list of wines, and seek out a bottle or two that seem interesting. If you’re skeptical of the validity of such a definitive answer, the next few paragraphs are for you.

There are very good wines for $11. There are very good wines for $27 and $44, too, and $80. “Surveys” often show that more people, blindly tasting, prefer the $11 wines to the $27 ones. But these are based on the false premise of majority rule: If more people like the cheap wine, then the cheap one is better, and look at how all those wine experts are a bunch of pretentious fools!

I don’t often care about what a lot of people enjoy. A lot of people enjoy certain political candidates or musicians, but that doesn’t mean the given candidate or musician is actually better. I care about actual, genuine quality.

Here are many, though not all, of the determinants of a wine’s price and quality:

 Location of vineyard: Napa and Bordeaux cost more per acre/hectare than Santa Barbara County and Beaujolais, for the usual real estate reasons, as well as legitimate geological reasons, as well as the cyclical logic of wine pricing (our wine is more expensive, therefore the property has to cost more).

Also remember that one of the primary reasons estate-grown wine from Europe costs less than estate-grown wine from the United States is that many European mortgages were paid off centuries ago by ancestors of the family that owns the property. Whereas in the United States there’s no such thing as centuries ago and family holdings are scarce.

 Altitude and slope of vineyard: Steeper and higher are usually harder to farm, and often require less efficient manual labor.

 Decisions by a vintner concerning yields (higher yields are more efficient, labor-wise, but generally produce less expressive fruit); viticultural practices (more attention in the vineyard must be done by individual eye and hand and costs money); harvest process (machine or hand) and date (later harvests end up with riper fruit but are riskier to wait for); fermentation and aging vessels (oak barrels are more expensive than stainless steel); aging duration; and a billion other things.

 Distribution, by which we mean everything that happens once the wines are bottled and ready to sell. How many export markets? Shipped via climate-controlled container? Marketing, advertising, promotion. If you buy a wine that you’ve seen advertisements for, or it’s the “official” wine of some organization or sports team, or it is prominently featured in a lifestyle-forming magazine – whether it’s a $10 Chilean sauvignon blanc or a well-known $75 Champagne – you paid too much for it.

I taste a lot of disappointing wine, and far less of it is $19 or $20 than any other price. This is the number that just happens to dance most gracefully the balance point between the necessary and the extraordinary.

Nineteen or 20 bucks is the best price because it’s the least BS-able price. No Silicon Valley expat with certain lifestyle needs is going to finance a winery in the Russian River Valley in order to charge $20 for a wine. No hotshot wine consultant hired to revamp a staid brand is going to make back his salary (and all the new oak he convinced the owner to buy) off just $20 per bottle. Reputations are made above $25 or $35.

At the other end of the spectrum, the $8 to $13 zone is rife with BS. The new oak might be in the form of chips tossed into the fermentation tank rather than barrels imported from Allier. The dense, syrupy flavors might come from hidden ingredients rather than overstayed hang-time. Either way, you’re in sketchy territory.

There are many terrific wines under $13, but without the help of trustworthy guides you’ll too often be ambushed by insipid ones. I’m in full favor of finding trustworthy guides, but if you are caught without, pay $19.

Try this test for yourself: Whatever category of wine, determined by either region or grape, that you particularly cherish as a reliable go-to for everyday meals and living, try a $19 or $20 version of that wine.

I’m thinking of Côtes-du-Rhône, malbec, Muscadet, barbera, vinho verde, Italian rosé, grüner veltliner, Rioja, a Tuscan rosso. A jump from nine to $13 may improve your experience; $17 to $26 may as well (and really may not). But go from $12 or $15 to $19 and you will tremble with delight.

Descend from $30 to $19 and you may just tremble with delight as well. But for those of us whose shift is up rather than down, there’s the question of financing. There are no super easy ways to handle this, but I’ll offer the same advice that I have in past columns for periodically drinking more expensive wine: Drink wine fewer nights each week; that’s what beer is for. Ask a shopkeeper to find you a wine that is $2 cheaper than the one you usually drink; put that money in your sock drawer, and in two or three weeks you can afford the $20 bottle. Don’t buy espresso drinks for a little while. Cancel your cable TV subscription.

Here is a list (ever does it grow) of wines I’ve had the honor to taste recently that cost the magic number(s). Beyond the brief directional notes I write about each, all are characterized by impressive balance, poise, length, intrigue and character expression.

All are farmed with organic or sustainable/holistic practices. They offer tremendous value. They are valuable – a trait that will exist even after humans’ petty attachment to money has finally gone extinct.

Weingut Dr. Heger Pinot Noir 2013, $20. From Baden in southern Germany, this is a liter bottle of true, savory pinot noir, with notes of meat broth, cinnamon, star anise. Therefore, drink it with Vietnamese pho.

Force of Nature Zinfandel 2014, $20. From hot Paso Robles, but the grapes are picked early to retain acidity and present delightful floral notes, at a relatively low (for zin) 14.8 percent alcohol. Seamless and silky.

Mount Abora ‘Koggelbos’ Chenin Blanc 2013, $19. South Africa’s Swartland produces earth-shaking chenin blanc. This spicy mouthful is all texture, waxy and robust, vinified oxidatively from average 40ish-year-old vines, stems left on to bring tannins and increase oxygen flow during native-yeast fermentation. The long lees contact with frequent stirring only adds to the wine’s weight and intricacy.

Markus Altenburger ‘Vom Kalk’ Blaufränkisch 2014, $18 (sorry). Southern Austria’s Burgenland is home to this limestone-bred beauty, vinified in stainless steel and then aged in 2,000-liter (very large) neutral wooden casks. No other grape merges brambly, pepper-packed dark black and blue fruit with such clean, delineated, silken texture. “Blaufränk” almost rhymes with “malbec” so I have no idea why wines like this haven’t conquered the world.

Joe Appel is the wine buyer at Rosemont Market. He can be reached at:

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